The Blue Jays might be the new Red Sox in the eyes of the Yankees.
It isn’t just because the Jays have played .500 ball against New York the last few years despite missing the playoffs. No, Toronto has put in the hard work to develop prospects, spend accordingly in free agency, and send a message: we want that American League East crown.
The Yankees know this all too well and made moves of their own this offseason, including adding former Blue Jays MVP Josh Donaldson. Even in going 8-11 against Toronto last year, the team’s pitching posted a 3.82 ERA in those 19 games.
The stage is set for an early-season clash. Four games in April that might as well be a playoff series, maybe even an October preview of sorts.
We established before the season that while the Yankees are better on paper, consistency favors Toronto. Let’s see if that still applies this morning.
The Blue Jays can hit. It’s a fact. Between Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Teoscar Hernandez, and a healthy George Springer, this team can score lots of runs in lots of ways, and very quickly. Just ask the Texas Rangers, who surrendered 20 runs to Toronto in three games. Cut to the Blue Jays posting a collective team line of .283/.351/.545, all Top 5 in baseball.
The Yankees, by comparison, only hit .235 against the Red Sox. Even in taking two out of three, old habits like pressing too hard for a home run or otherwise big hit lingers in players like Aaron Hicks and Gleyber Torres. The good news for the Bronx Bombers is the team as a whole took much cleaner swings and weren’t as fooled by pitches out of the strike zone.
The next four games will feature two very good teams facing off in a small stadium that favors hitters. Three games in, the Blue Jays have performed as advertised. So have the Yankees, namely with two big Giancarlo Stanton home runs against Boston.
In reality, the Yankees’ first series with the Blue Jays will come down to pitching. Let’s take a look at the expected matchups:
- Monday: Alek Manoah vs. Jameson Taillon
- Tuesday: Yusei Kikuchi vs. Nestor Cortes
- Wednesday: Jose Berrios vs. Gerrit Cole
- Thursday: Kevin Gausman vs. Luis Severino
We’ve already established how New York’s staff fared against Toronto last year: 8-11 with a 3.82 ERA. Conversely, Blue Jays pitchers fielded a collective 3.42 ERA. Again, this April series is already ripe with an October feel.
But early on, even as the Blue Jays took two of three from Texas, we now see their biggest flaw. Toronto’s staff surrendered 23 runs to the Rangers, a team that spent half a billion dollars on Marcus Semien and Corey Seager in free agency. That makes for an MLB-worst 7.67 ERA.
Even just three games into a 162-game season, woof.
The Yankees’ pitching, meanwhile, had a great weekend thanks to pitching coach Matt Blake’s continued excellent work. Six hitless innings from the bullpen on Saturday, with a tip of the cap to bullpen coach Mike Harkey. Blake also got ace Gerrit Cole to settle down after a rough first inning on Opening Day. If Clarke Schmidt didn’t serve up Bobby Dalbec’s home run on Sunday, perhaps the Yankees would have swept.
Regardless, the Yankees’ pitching staff is a well-oiled machine. Ranking sixth in MLB during last year’s frustrating season proves that.
Toronto, on the other hand, is still learning what to expect from its new and improved rotation.
ESNY’s James Kratch has weighed in on this series too and hit the nail on the head: the Yankees “cannot win the AL East this week, but they might be able to lose it.”
In any other Yankees-Blue Jays series in any other season, this would be melodramatic. Canada’s vaccine mandates potentially keeping Aaron Judge and Anthony Rizzo out of the lineup in Toronto make these four games critical. The Yankees can’t lose the series but claim the moral victory of keeping games close or putting up the good fight. The Opening Day hype video even says so: “No more moral victories.”
But given who each team faced to open their season, plus general matchups, this seems the right call. Both the Yankees and Blue Jays will shine this week as they continue learning who they are as respective teams in 2022. When the dust settles, it’ll be a clean split.
Prediction: Series split 2-2